Liggins Institute


Pregnancy research

Working to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies affected by major complications of pregnancy

Overview


Our research focuses on finding ways to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies affected by major complications of pregnancy (preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction).

We are also investigating fetal and placental growth and development, implantation of the embryo, factors that affect the regulation of pregnancy and parturition (birth), and gene expression and regulation in the human endometrium during the menstrual cycle.

Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is the leading cause of maternal and perinatal death and disability resulting in 50,000 – 100,000 maternal deaths each year. Mothers suffer multiple organ failure and demonstrate high blood pressure and protein in their urine

 

Fetal growth restriction

Fetal growth restriction (FGR) occurs when babies fail to thrive in the womb. The condition is associated with two thirds of stillbirths and a quarter of neonatal deaths.

Both conditions are associated with long-term health problems such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic abnormalities.We have used animal models of these pregnancy conditions to investigate novel therapies and we have demonstrated that we can treat the mother’s signs of disease.

Preterm birth

Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of death and illness in the period before and after birth. We are investigating the role of intrauterine infection in precipitating the onset of premature labour.

Embryo implantation

Over half of all conceptions fail during the first half of pregnancy – mainly due to failure of implantation. Our research focuses on understanding how the embryo is recognized and the molecular regulation of embryo implantation.

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Investigators


Professor Philip Baker

Dr Anna Ponnampalam

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Collaborators


Associates within Liggins Institute

Dr Jo Perry
Dr Mark Vickers
Professor Wayne Cutfield

Associates at other organisations

New Zealand
AgResearch: Dr Chris McMahon,

Australia
University of Western Australia: Associate Professor Jeff Keelan

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Current research projects


  • Using murine models to identify novel potential therapies for preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction
  • Using metabolomics to develop screening tests for major pregnancy complications
  • Epigenetic regulation of embryo implantation
  • Epigenetic regulation of parturition
  • Gene expression and regulation of the human endometrium during the menstrual cycle
  • New treatment targets for endometriosis

Other interests have included: vascular adaptation to pregnancy, placental cell invasion, placental cell turnover, endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs), adverse pregnancy outcome in teenage pregnancies, fetal origins of adult disease (such as schizophrenia) and the effect of maternal stress on pregnancy outcome, and MRI imaging in pregnancy.

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Student research projects


Projects of current students and projects available for new students

  • Investigation of potential new therapies for fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia.
  • Determination of the ‘pregnancy exposome’: exposure to environmental agents in pregnancy.
  • Characterisation of the fetal growth restriction (FGR) placenta in both the developed and developing worlds, with emphasis on placental epigenetics.
  • The role of the endometrial epithelium in embryo implantation
  • The role of the endometrial epithelium in embryo implantation
  • Epigenetic regulation of parturition

In these projects students may be involved in any facet of translational research, from cellular studies, to in vitro/animal models and clinical assessment/treatment studies.

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Funding


Over the past 10 years Professor Baker has been awarded grants totaling over $NZ 40M for his research portfolio. He currently holds grants from the Medical Research Council (MRC), the British Heart Foundation, the Canadian Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust. He was previously the principal investigator of an MRC Development Grant and is currently co-principal investigator of:

  • MRC programme grant – to use murine models to identify novel potential therapies for preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction
  • Wellcome Trust Translational award – to use our expertise in metabolomics to develop screening tests for major pregnancy complications
  • EU FP7 Programme grant: Personalised medicine for pregnant women: novel metabolomic and proteomic biomarkers to detect pre-eclampsia and improve outcome. (Improved Pregnancy Outcomes by Early Detection)
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